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Series on Faith in God

We are continuing on in our series on Faith in God. As Scripture tells us we need faith to receive God’s promises. James says without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But Jesus tells us that with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). All that God has for us is made available to us by faith.

We also talked about how there are three parts to faith:

  1. A word from God, which gives us something to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word.
  3. And appropriate action based on his word to us.

We need all three of these to have the kind of faith that receives from God.

But the sad fact is that in various ways we often get off track in our attempt to have faith in God and to receive God’s promises. We will focus on one particular problem today, which is rooted in the first part of faith, having something from God to stand on. When we try to act in faith without a word from God, this is called –

Presumption

Here’s an illustration from everyday life. I have faith in my wife that she is kind and hospitable. But if I invite over a large group of people for dinner without her saying it’s OK, well, that is presuming upon her and would likely have dire consequences for me!

To be presumptuous is to move forward with unwarranted confidence. It’s to have misplaced assurance. In the things of God our confidence is unwarranted because it’s not based on a word from God.

Now easy examples of this have to do with when Jesus will return. Not too long ago Harold Camping and his followers proclaimed that May 21, 2011 as the day. Do you remember? These people really believed. They had certainty (the second part of faith). They even had actions of sacrifice and boldness (the third part of faith). But nothing came of it because it was not based on God’s word (the first part of faith). They found themselves waiting for God to act, when God never said he would.

The point today is that we need to make sure that we are standing on God’s word with our faith; that what we claim as a word from God is indeed a word from God. Otherwise, although we may look like we have faith, it’s simply presumption or fake faith; it’s a cheap substitute.

Now there are many –

Different paths that lead to presumption

I will just give a few examples today. 1. You misunderstand a word from God. This is quite common. For instance, you might say, if I raise my child right, they will become a Christian. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Well, this is a proverb, not a promise. It talks about the way things usually work out. Not the way it always works out. So this doesn’t give us a guaranteed end result for every person. And as we know from other Scriptures we must all make our own moral choices in the end.

Another exampleif I have faith, my whole family will eventually be saved. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is a misunderstanding of the context of the verse. Paul is saying that the promise of salvation by faith is not just for the Philippian jailer, but for everyone in his household. That is, if they believe, they too will be saved. He’s not saying that if he believes his whole household will be saved or will eventually be saved. Again, each of us have to make our choices. They can’t be made for us.

Another path to presumption is when 2. You claim a promise that has conditions, but you don’t meet them. For instance, God will always forgive me. You read the last part of Matthew 6:14 – “your heavenly Father will forgive you,” and you say, ‘Hey I prayed for forgiveness and God has promised to forgive me. I am standing on this promise!’ But you left out the “if” part; the first part of the verse. There’s a condition. It says, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” You won’t receive the blessing of forgiveness, unless you meet the condition of forgiving others.

Many of God’s promises have such conditions that we need to be aware of.

Another path to presumption is when 3. You trust in your own plan to fulfill God’s promise. You act without listening to how God wants to bring it to fulfillment.

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham who come up with a plan to get their promised son through Hagar the servant. But this wasn’t God’s will; this wasn’t God’s plan. And it caused many problems.

Another example can be seen in Matthew 26. Peter knew that God’s kingdom was being made real through Jesus. But when the police came to arrest Jesus he took a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He thought he could make the kingdom of God come by violence, instead of the suffering love of the cross; in his own way and not God’s way.

When you act on your own to fulfill God’s plan you end up further from the blessing (not closer). And it makes a mess of things.

A final example of a path to presumption is when 4. You take a general promise and make it rigidly apply to you. You take God’s general will, and say it has to happen to you in a certain way or time.

For instance, Psalm 91 talks about the one “who dwells in the shelter of the Almighty” – and it says some pretty amazing things:

  • 10 – “no evil (harm) shall be allowed to befall you.”
  • 14 – “I will deliver him, I will protect him.”
  • 15 – “I will rescue him.”
  • 16 – “with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

So you say, ‘this is what the Word says, God will protect me from all harm and give me a long life.’ Well, what should we make of Paul’s many trials which he enumerates in several of his letters, not to mention the trials of our Lord. Or the promise that it is through many trials that we must enter the kingdom? Act 14:22.

No, this Psalm talks about the way God works in general. God loves to deliver his own and bless them. But this doesn’t always happen, just as the righteous don’t always have long lives in this world. But this Psalm does speak to how it will be in the end for each of us. We will be delivered and blessed and live life eternal without evil or harm.

Now, if you get a specific word from God by the Spirit that says, he’s ready to deliver you or to keep it from coming to you in the first place, this allows you to have something specific to stand on, to pray in bold faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Let’s look at the big picture. This is how real faith works: 1) We have a word from God as a foundation to stand on. 2) We have firm trust in God and God’s word to us. And 3) we have appropriate action. And then God comes through for us and we receive the blessings.

But when we 1) have no word from God to stand on, 2) we have misplaced trust, and 3) we will have wrong actions; not in accord with God’s will. And we receive nothing from God. And we will likely look foolish and cause others to scoff or stumble.

So it’s really important to learn –

How to avoid presumption

And the key here is to discern God’s will. Here are some things that will help guard us from presuming upon God.

1. Know God’s word. Know what God’s will and promises are, what the context and scope of each promise is, and any conditions that apply.

2. Know God’s voice. Now this isn’t always easy. But you can get to know what God’s voice is like. It’s clear, pure and different than you. And of course, always check any such word against the word of God which is our standard.

3. Only claim general promises in a general way. We can only stand in faith on as much as we have from God.

A good example of this comes from Daniel 3:17-18. The three young men were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are saying, ‘God can do it, but even if he doesn’t we are fine with that.’ God loves to deliver the righteous, but he doesn’t always.

If you want more specificity in a case, pray and ask for it. “God what is your will?” “How do you want me to pray?” And then you can pray with bold faith. But short of something more from God, ask, but leave it open to what God chooses to do.

4. Ask others for discernment. Ask other Christians, ‘Do I have something from God here?’ Let them see if it rings true to them. This is one of the ways we can help each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I want to end with a Scripture that sums up what I’m saying today from –

1 John 5:14-15

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

He’s talking about firm faith or as he says, “confidence” toward God. And he makes the point that our faith comes to fruition if “we ask . . . according to his (God’s) will.” That’s when we receive what “we have asked of him.”

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Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

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Series: Faith in God

I want to begin a series today on Faith in God. Faith is absolutely central to our lives as followers of Jesus and I want to encourage you in your faith as we go through this. And this especially so, since we as a congregation are all seeking to have God work through us during this year of discernment; that God might use us to bring people to know him.

Now, when you talk about faith certainly Abraham comes to mind. In fact, in Galatians 3:9 Paul calls him simply “the man of faith.” So I want us to look at his story, and specifically at –

Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a child

Now this story covers ten whole chapters in Genesis, but don’t worry, I’m gonna squeeze it down for you and go through it quickly.

First of all, in Genesis 12: He receives the promise. Abraham was seventy-five years old and living in Haran. And God spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. . .” (12:1-2)

Of course, to be a great nation means that he will have a child. And this was a big deal because Sarah couldn’t have children (11:30). Nevertheless, in faith, he packed his bags and all that he owned and went to Canaan. And once he got to there, God reaffirmed the promise in 12:7,  “to your offspring I will give this land.”

 Well, time passes. He goes to Egypt and fears for his life and then comes back. He splits the land for grazing with Lot, his nephew. And he has to rescue Lot after he is taken captive. But there is no child yet.

This brings us to Chapter 15: Where God confirms the promise. (See too the encouragement in chapter 13:14-17). And here we see Abraham’s humanity come out.

God spoke to him again about blessing him. But Abraham said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless . . . you have given me no offspring.” (15:2-3)

Then God said, “. . . your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (15:4-5)

And after this amazing promise it says, Abraham “believed the Lord . . ..” (15:6). He had faith in God.

And then Abraham said, “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:8). This is an honest question. He was already old. How would he know that this will happen after he is gone? And so God let him see into the future, and God made a covenant with him – a guarantee (according to the culture of that day) and then reiterated, “to your offspring I give this land . . ..” (15:18)

Next, Abraham tries to fulfill the promise on his own, through Sarah’s servant Hagar, who bore him a son named Ishmael. And this caused a great deal of conflict in his household.

This brings us to Genesis 17-18: Where God confirms the promise again. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. God said, “for I have made you the father of many nations.” He speaks of it as if it is already done. And now Abraham has as his name “father of many nations.” How ironic that everyone calls him this, “father of many nations,” even though he has no child from Sarah.

God said to him – “I will give you a son by her” (v. 16), that is Sarah, his wife. And Abraham laughed (v. 17) because they were so old! Abraham is now 99 years old, and Sarah is 90.

Abraham asked, “Why not Ishmael?” You know, this would be a lot easier. But God said no. The son will come from Sarah and the name will be Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham laughed. And then God said that it would happen within a year (v. 21).

Then we have another story where Sarah laughs about having a child. Then Lot is rescued from the destruction of Sodom. And we have another story of Abraham’s weakness, where he was afraid he would die.

And then, sure enough, a year later, in Genesis 21: Isaac is born!

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” (21:1-2)

Abraham got off track at times, he was afraid, he questioned, he laughed about the promise, but he believed. And because he believed, he received the promise. He was 100 years old. And he had waited for 25 years.

Let’s look briefly at some –

Lessons on faith from this story

1. Be prepared for the unusual. God often works in unusual ways. He does it his way, not necessarily what we want. We want things to be quick, smooth and easy. But as we see with Abraham there were lots of difficulties and obstacles. And so it will be with us. Walking in faith is an adventure with God.

2. Faith can involve a lot of patience. As we saw, Abraham waited 25 years. And there were years at a time where there was nothing from God about the promise. Just silence and waiting, for two, five or maybe seven years at a time. And we will need patience too as we look to God in faith.

3. God often acts when we are at our weakest. God acted when they were both too old to have children, so no one would doubt that this was a miracle; that it was God working – and not just the natural course of things. And often with us as well, God waits until we know we can’t do it in our own strength, and then he answers.

These are some good things to remember. But most basically, this story teaches us that –

You need faith to receive God’s promises

And this is my point today. Abraham received the promise because he believed God and he acted on his belief.

Paul gives us an amazing description of his faith.

Romans 4:18-21 – “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He did not look at the outward things, his circumstances;  how they were both too old to have a child. He looked to God and knew that God was able. And that’s all that really matters.

And just as Abraham received God’s promise by faith, so this is true of all God’s people. As Hebrews 11:33-34 says, They, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness . . ..” This was all through faith in God.

And just as Abraham and all these other examples received what God had for them by faith, so we receive all that God has for us by faith.

  • What do you need to receive new life from God? Faith! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • What do you need to receive God’s provision for your needs? Faith! In Matthew 6:30 Jesus tells us not to be anxious or to have little faith, but to trust that God will provide for our needs.
  • What do you need to overcome the evil one? Faith! Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
  • What do you need to overcome the world? Faith! 1 John 5:4-5 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
  • What do you need to have your prayers answered? Faith! Scripture says that God gives generously to all, “But let (each one) ask in faith, with no doubting . . .” – James 1:6

And what do we need to be used by God to work at bringing people to know the Lord? Faith!!!

We can be like the people of Nazareth who received very little of what Jesus could do because of their “unbelief” – Mark 6:6. Or we can be like the disciples who, though stumbling, had faith and received what Jesus had for them. Think of them at Pentecost and in the book of Acts.

We can choose doubt, but then as James says, we will not “receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Or We can choose faith, for as Jesus said, “all things are possible for the one who believes” – Mark 9:23.

Do you believe that God can work through you to touch other people’s lives that they might come to Christ, and grow and be encouraged and helped? Do you believe? It’s your choice. I choose faith. And I encourage you to do the same.

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We are in Daniel chapter 3 today. This is the familiar story of the fiery furnace (quite a contrast to our temperatures today). I want us to hear this story again today, perhaps with new ears, to glean some lessons for when we go through difficult times of trial in our lives.

Let’s begin with some –

Background

– to our story that helps us understand what’s going on. Nebuchadnezzar has conquered the people of God and taken many of them back to Babylon. Daniel was one of these, but our story today focuses on his three friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

So they are living in exile in a foreign land, but they were determined to be true to God, even though they worked for the government. And this wasn’t easy, especially with the beliefs and practices of the people of Babylon.

v. 1 sets up our story – “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” So this was a really big idol – 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.

And he had big plans for it.  V. 6 conveys his order to everyone, “whoever does not fall down and worship (the image) shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” Now for most people this was no big deal. They worshiped many gods, and the idols that represented them, and so this was just one more.

But for Jews this was strictly forbidden. The second of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:4-5 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image  . . .You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” So they had a choice. And this brings us to –

Lesson #1 – They were true to God

When the King had gathered together all his officials to dedicate this golden image and fall down before it, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not bow down. They made the right choice, even knowing the danger it posed to their lives.

And sure enough the report came to the king. In v. 12 they speak, “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” There must have been a lot of competition between these officials to get ahead and some saw this as “a golden opportunity” to get rid of some of the competition.

The story goes on in Daniel 3:13-15. “Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Even with all these threats and the rage of their king, they remained faithful to God.

This brings us to –

Lesson #2 – They entrusted themselves into God’s hands

vs. 16-18 – “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”

They already knew they would be thrown in the fire. But they have strong faith in God. In response the king’s taunt, “and who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (v. 15) they confess that the true God is more than able to deliver them if he wants to. But even if God doesn’t choose to do this, they will still be faithful to him.

Lesson #3 – God was with them in their trials

Things got even worse for them. In Daniel 3:19-23 we learn that:

  •  the king was furious and his countenance changed
  •  the furnace was heated seven times hotter
  •  it was so hot it killed the men who threw them into it

Things are really bad. But God didn’t leave them alone. Vs. 24-25 – “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.’”

So the king is working on his basic math skills and finds a problem – there was an extra person in the furnace. Who was the fourth man? An angel, who are called sons of god? Or was this the Son of God? All we know is that God sent one of his own to be with them in the midst of their trial. God didn’t let them go through it alone, but was there with them right in the fiery furnace, walking with them.

Lesson #4 – God came through for them

We have already seen that the fire didn’t kill them, but they were walking around in the furnace. V. 26 goes on to say, “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.”

v. 27 tells us that the fire had no power over them

  • Their hair was not singed
  • Their clothes were not burned and
  • They didn’t even smell like smoke

But God not only delivered them, he glorified his Name. In v. 28, the king acknowledges the greatness of the true God. “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

And in the end he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (v. 30).

These are lessons for us

For we are in a similar situation. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego we too live in exile in a foreign land. Peter calls all Christians “sojourners and exiles” in this world – 1 Peter 2:10. And the author of Hebrews talks about the saints as those who have “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” 11:13.

And in our time of exile we too will go through trials of various kinds. The world tries to get us to live by its will instead of God’s will for us. And this often puts us in a bind where we have to choose. And the evil one, the god of this world is always seeking to test and try us. And as 1 Peter 1:7 says, we are “tested by fire.”

So when we go through fiery trials remember this story. 1. Remember to be true to God. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego  made the right choice and stuck with it despite the rage of many and the threat to their lives, so we need to make right choices. We can’t let difficult circumstances lead us to be unfaithful to God.

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” In a time of testing it is easy to grow weary in doing what is right, but we must remain steadfast. James 1:2 says, “Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial.” We too must make right choices and stick with them, even when it is terribly difficult.

2. Remember to entrust yourself into God’s hands. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in full faith, gave their lives into God’s hands in their trial, so should we because God is more than able to take care of us too.

Hebrews 13:6 is a strong confession of faith, “the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Whether God delivers us from our trial or not, we know that God will take care of us and bless us.

3. Remember God will be with you. Just as he was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, so he will walk with you through your fiery trials.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And as Isaiah 43:2 says, “I will be with you . . .when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you.” God doesn’t leave us alone.

4. Finally, remember that God will come through for you. Just as he came through for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, so he will come through for you. Like them, we don’t know how he will do this – through a miracle or strengthening us to endure and overcome in the midst, or in the world to come. But God is faithful and he will come through.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When you go through difficulties, remember you are not the first to do so. There are many examples in the Scriptures that can help us. This morning, let’s learn from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and be strengthened to endure and overcome just as they did.

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Series on faith in God:

We have come to the end of our series on faith in God. The message today is simple – when you act in faith on God’s word, God will not fail you. Another way to say this is that when you have all three parts of faith 1) a word from God to stand on, 2) trust in God and God’s word to you and 3) appropriate action – God will come through for you.

Let’s look at this.

It is God’s very character to be faithful

That is, faithfulness is a part of God’s nature or essence. Listen to how God describes himself, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . ..” – Exodus 34:6.

Listen to the Psalmist, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” – Psalm 36:5. God’s faithfulness is great in its scope. And again, “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. . ..” – Psalm 117:2. God’s faithfulness lasts forever.

Indeed it is impossible for God not to be faithful to his word and promise. Even when everyone else is unfaithful, God is faithful to what he has said he will do. In Romans 3:3-4 Paul asks, does human unfaithfulness “nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. . ..” God will be true to himself even if everyone else is false. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13, “God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”

Did you know that this is why we are forbidden to test God? Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test . . ..” We don’t test God because God’s faithfulness is not in question – ever. It is outrageous to even think that we as humans would ever try to make God prove himself.

The ones whose faithfulness is in doubt is us. And that’s why God tests us, to see if we will be faithful.

Let’s look now at some scriptural –

Illustrations of God’s faithfulness

As we have seen, God made a promise to Abraham, “you will have a son and an heir.” Now, Abraham had to wait. He went through many trials. He even got off track at points. But Abraham believed, and after 25 years – God gave him a son. God came through for Abraham, and God will come through for you.

Now to make this more personal I would like for you to say this, “God will come through for me.” All together . . . And whenever you see this, I would like for you to say it out loud – and with passion. Let’s try it. God came through for Abraham and “God will come through for me.”

And then there is Moses. God said to him, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10).

Moses didn’t want to, but he did. And it was a long and arduous struggle with Pharaoh, and with the Israelites at times. But sure enough, through mighty acts and displays of wonder God led them out of Egypt. And when the Egyptians changed their minds, God opened the Red sea and let his people pass through, while the waters destroyed the Egyptian army.

God came through for Moses, and “God will come through for me.”

God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6). And they went forth, and God went before them and they received the promise of land and rest. After some 400 years, God answered the promise.

God came through for Joshua, and “God will come through for me.”

God called Gideon to save Israel from the oppression of Midian (Judges 6:14). But he thought he couldn’t do it. And God had to confirm it to him several times. Finally he set out with his army. And God told him he had too many soldiers (Judges 7:2). The army went from 32,000 to 300. But God gave them the victory.

God came through for Gideon, and “God will come through for me.”

David was incensed that Goliath was taunting Israel and more importantly the true God. All the soldiers of Israel were afraid of Goliath and would not accept his challenge to fight.

And so with faith in God, he went out to face the giant. He went with five stones and a sling. And he killed that giant, even though he was only a shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17).

God came through for David and, “God will come through for me.”

Jehoshaphat was faced with a vast horde of an army only 25 miles from Jerusalem. They were coming to wipe away his kingdom. This was an impossible situation.

But he turned to God in prayer and did just what the Lord said. They went out to meet the enemy, singing praises to God and God’s faithfulness.

And God fought for them that day. They didn’t have to do the work. And it was a great victory (2 Chronicles 20).

God came through for Jehoshaphat, and “God will come through for me.”

Daniel was not liked by many in the court of king Darius because of his success. And so they conspired to do him in. They told the king to pass a law that no one was to pray to any god for 30 days, except the king.

But Daniel continued to pray to the Lord God. And so the men caught him and brought this to the king’s attention. Although the king liked Daniel, he was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed.

But Daniel trusted in God, and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was saved. But his accusers were thrown in, in his place.

God came through for Daniel, and “God will come through for me.”

And then we have Jesus, who knew that it was God’s will for him to die on the cross. And so he went, entrusting his life into God’s hands. He was treated unjustly, he suffered and he died.

But God didn’t let him stay in the grave. God raised him up on the morning of the third day; he was bodily raised from the dead. And he was given a place at the right hand of God.

God came through for Jesus, and “God will come through for me.”

In one way or another, God will come through

It might be:

  • when we are out our weakest point
  • when only God can fix the problem
  • after much waiting on our part
  • after much testing
  • at the last minute

But God will come through.

And God might come through in way that we don’t anticipate or can’t even imagine ahead of time. Like resurrecting someone before the final day, in the case of our Lord Jesus. Or who would have thought that God would part the Red Sea as a way of escape for his people?

God often uses poetic justice, for instance Daniel is saved and his accusers end up in the Lion’s den. There’s a switch. Also, God loves to use the weak and the lowly. Think of David facing Goliath.

But, however God does it, God will come through. And that’s the message for today.

William Higgins

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Series on faith in God

We are continuing to talk about faith in God this morning. In the title I am using language that comes from James 2:22 when he says that Abraham’s faith “was completed by his works” or actions.

I am interested to know how you did on the quiz on the three parts of faith.

  1. A word from God to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you.
  3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you.

Now what this action is depends entirely on what the promise is and what the situation is. It might be to be bold, to speak out, to go somewhere, to stay somewhere, to be patient, etc..

We also saw how the Greek word for faith encompasses all three of these parts of faith. It can be translated as:

  • “the faith,” what we believe in; the promise or truth that we are standing on.
  • “faith,” which is the usual meaning of the Greek word, here talking about trust and certainty in God.
  • “faithfulness,” which refers to our actions of faith that flow out of our trust and belief.

All three of these aspects are contained in the one Greek word.

This helps highlight from a different angle, what I have been teaching, that you need all three parts of faith to have true biblical faith; the kind of faith that receives from God.

This leads me to the first of two points I would like to make today:

1. Without action you don’t have faith

If you don’t have part #3, deeds of faith, then what you are calling “faith” isn’t, biblically considered, faith.

So for instance, believing in “the faith” without action isn’t enough. That is, just knowing what God’s truth and word are, without acting on it.

Think about a most basic tenet of our faith, that there is only one God. Believing this is true doesn’t do you any good, unless it’s a broader part of you putting your trust in this truth and acting on this truth – by surrendering your life to serve the one true God.

James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – James 2:19. His point is that believing in this truth of God doesn’t help the demons. Because you have to respond to God’s truth with trust and (the emphasis here is on) appropriate action.

It is also true that trusting in God without action isn’t enough. When we truly trust God and God’s word to us it will show up in our actions. How do I know this? Because Jesus said, A “tree is known by its own fruit” – Luke 6:44.

What is in within, in our heart, whether faith our doubt is made known in our outward actions. There is a an unbreakable link between what is inside us, in our hearts, and what comes out of us, the fruit of our lives; our deeds.

The necessity of action to our faith is put quite simply by James. He says,

  • “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” -James 2:17
  • “Faith apart from works is dead” – James 2:26

[James seems to be focused mostly on the first part of faith – a word, or truth from God in these verses. But his statement applies to claiming trust in God without works. Any conception of faith without works is dead.]

Rather we show our faith by our actions, as he says in James 2:8.

However you want to put it, your actions show what you really believe. You can say what you want about what you believe or how much you trust, or have feelings of trust. But you don’t have real faith until you act on your belief and trust.

Let me give you an illustration: A tight-rope walker. This is a well known story: In 1859 a circus performer from France known as “the Great Blondin” strung up a tight rope and walked across the gorge below Niagara falls. He was quite amazing. At different times he crossed blindfolded, on a bicycle, on stilts and with a man on his back.

He also once pushed a wheel barrow across and he put a stove in it. When he got to the middle he cooked an omelet on the stove and ate it.

As you might imagine, he always gathered large crowds who wanted to see him perform.

The story is told that one day he asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can go across this rope? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Do you believe that I can do it with a person in the wheel barrow? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Which of you will be first?” But no one responded.

The point is that, it isn’t until you actually get in the wheel barrow that you show what you really believe. Everything else is talk. There has to be some action on our part.

Summary: If we boil all this down into a question it would be – How do you know what you truly believe? The answer is, you believe exactly what you do; what shows up in the fruit of your life or your deeds.

So take a look at your life – a good, honest, sober look. Do you see the fruit of faith in your actions? Just a reminder, this is exactly how God will examine you on the final day.

2. Once you add action to your belief and certainty, you can receive from God

In fact you can receive all that God has for us. Action is what completes our belief and trust and thus what makes us able to receive from God.

But sometimes we think that we have to be super-spiritual. You know, we have to have great faith to minister for God and to be used by God.

But that’s not true at all! Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20. A mustard seed is a proverbial expression for that which is really small. Jesus is saying no matter how small your faith is, as long as it is real faith (it has belief, trust and action) you can do anything God asks you to do.

So don’t sit back and just wait for faith to suddenly and mysteriously arrive – and then act. This is misconception that trips many of us up. Instead of waiting, simply put into action the faith you have, however small.

This is all you need. And this is, in fact, how your faith will grow.

Here’s an illustration: My parachute adventure. My wife and I, when we lived in Boston in the late 80’s, watched a TV show that featured the characters parachuting out of the back of a plane. We thought, “Wow that looks like great fun.” And so we decided we should go parachuting.

So we found a place in New Hampshire that trained people and let us jump by ourselves – all in one day. The training was hard and lasted for about six hours. They tied the packs on us so tight that I had bruises on my shoulders the next day.

Finally, the time came and we went up in a small plane. Contrary to the image we had in our minds of running out the back of a plane, in this setup you had to climb out onto the wing of the plane and then let go.

So we are up in the plane and the young man who was set to jump first got to the door of the plane. And his face went white. You could see that he was afraid. And not everyone in our group ended up actually parachuting. I won’t mention any names, but I am talking about my wife (this isn’t her name).

When it was my turn, I got to the side door of the plane and put my hand out to grab onto the wing – and the wind knocked my hand back it was rushing by so quickly. I grabbed again and pulled myself out onto the wing. I held on for a few seconds, and then let go.

Now, my point in all of this is that I didn’t have great faith. Not at all! It was actually terrifying. I had very small faith. But I acted on what little faith I had, and that was all I needed.

You can still be afraid, white faced, sweating or nauseous, but if you act on your trust and belief – it is still faith. And with God that is all that you need.

Now you can certainly grow in your faith so that after 100 jumps almost all of your fear is gone. But even a mustard seed is enough.

Summary: To boil this all down, we can simply ask, How much faith do you need? The answer is just enough to make you cross that threshold from belief and trust – to action.

It doesn’t matter if you are trembling in your boots. What matters is that you are putting your belief and trust into action; that you have complete faith.

William S. Higgins

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Series on faith in God

We are moving right along in our series on faith in God. I have wanted to focus on faith because it’s the path to God’s blessings, for us as individuals and for us as a congregation. And I want all of us to receive what God has for us.

But faith doesn’t just spring up within us. It’s not a natural part of us. We would much rather walk by sight, that is, by what we can see and control. But God calls us to walk by faith, that is, trusting in God when we can’t see what’s ahead or control things. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

But you might say – “I don’t have this kind of faith!” And, “Where does it come from? How can I have confident assurance in God’s promises to me? Especially when there are so many obstacles and difficult circumstances in my way.”

This is what we’re talking about today – overcoming doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith.

Last week we looked at –

What doubt is

And specifically about how Scripture speaks of doubt. Not really about intellectual doubt, but concerns of the heart about God’s faithfulness. Doubt means that you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised (Romans 4:21).

The reason for doubt is that you fear that God will fail you. When you look at the circumstances and difficulties around you, you think, “Is God able to come through for me?” Or, “If he is able, is he willing to come through for me?” And, then you think, “If God doesn’t come through for me, I could be embarrassed, or end up in worse shape than I am now.”

Doubt is really about wavering. It’s a state between firm faith and unbelief. You say, “I should trust God.” But then you say, “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are double-minded, going back and forth between the two.

The end result is that doubt keeps you from acting on God’s promises. It’s too risky if you aren’t sure God will come through for you. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

What can you do to overcome doubt?

Perhaps you are trusting God to provide for a need, or as looked at last week, to give you the words to share with a friend who does not know the Lord. Whatever your situation –

1. Fight your fear. Last week we saw how Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). He was afraid that since his daughter wasn’t just sick, but had died, that Jesus couldn’t help him.

And when we think that God can’t or won’t come through for us we need to hear this too! “Don’t fear, only believe.”

Here are two ways to fight your fear:

  • Ask the Spirit to give you the strength to be courageous. Our flesh is weak and vulnerable to fear. But the Spirit can give you the strength to die to your fear and walk the path of faith in the power of the Spirit. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak.” But he also said, “the Spirit indeed is willing” that is, to help us and strengthen us – Mark 14:38.
  • When Satan tries to reinforce your fear, saying, “you should be afraid!” or “God won’t come through for you!” – rebuke him in the name of Jesus. As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When you are seeking to trust in God to come through on his promise to you, and your fear rises up – fight it in these ways.

2. Keep God’s word in your heart. Where does faith come from? Scripture says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17. Now this is talking about the promise of salvation through Jesus. But the general principle stands: God’s word to us builds faith within us.

  • God can speak to us through the Scriptures. And I don’t mean merely reading Scripture. The word is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” So, I’m talking about when we read Scripture and God’s truth goes down into our heart and touches us. And we know the truth at a level that goes beyond simply the mind and the senses.
  • And God can speak to us by his Spirit within us, in the same way.

When God speaks to us like this and we receive it God’s word builds up and strengthens our faith. Something supernatural takes place within us that is powerful and life changing.

Dwell on God’s truth to you from the Word and the Spirit. This will build up your faith.

3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. First, remember that it is God’s character to be faithful. Lamentations 3:21-23 helps us see this. The writer here is despairing and is suffering greatly after the destruction of Jerusalem. And then he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

He finds hope in God’s unchanging character, despite his awful circumstances.

Second, remember that God has always been faithful. God has a track record that you can look at. In Psalm 77:11-12 this writer is troubled and concerned. Is God still faithful? He feels that God has deserted him. But then he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

He goes on to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from Egypt. And this encourages him. God has always been faithful! And the Psalm ends on a note of faith.

You can remind yourself of God’s faithfulness too. Recall –

  • Scriptural stories of faith, perhaps of Abraham or David.
  • Stories of God’s faithfulness in history or today. People’s testimonies that you know.
  • How God has been faithful to you. How God has answered your prayers and come through for you in the past.

4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles. Stay focused on God’s truth to you, and God’s faithfulness. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by the obstacles in your way. It is these that feed our fear and doubt. So what you choose to focus on makes a difference.

Remember Peter on the water? He started out well. He walked on the water to Jesus! But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and started to focus on the circumstances – the wind – and he became afraid, he doubted and he sank – Matthew 14:30.

Remember Abraham? He was promised a child. But he and his wife were way old! But he stayed focused on God, not the difficulties of how in the world the promise would be fulfilled. And he received the promise. Romans 4:19 says, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”

5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings you can’t always control. But you can control your choices. So stay focused on what you can control. Even if you feel fear (you’re all alone, it’s gonna fail) make right choices. Your feelings will come into alignment with God’s truth eventually.

Let the reality of God’s truth determine what you choose, not your feelings about the apparent reality of your circumstances.

6. Be around others who will encourage your faith. Especially if you are weak in your faith and starting to waver. Fellow Christians can help build up your faith, encouraging you and praying for you.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:23-24.

Let me end with a word of –

Encouragement

These six ways can help you overcome your fear and doubt. I encourage you to put this into practice in your lives. I want us all, as individuals and as a congregation to receive all that God has for us. And faith is the path to this.

William Higgins

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